The Isolator: a lesson in pre-automation struggles

Have you ever wanted to shut out the world, just so you can get some work done?

We’ve all felt the frustration of being unable to focus. We’ve all questioned why we can’t just get this piece of work done, or grown increasingly irritated at the amount of noise in our workplace.

Well, for one 1920s inventor, this frustration prompted a rather strange contraption: a helmet dubbed ‘The Isolator.’

Distraction vs productivity

Today, our phones, emails or social media might be responsible for sapping our attention. But productivity woes are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, we’ve long been battling the demon of distraction.

Distractions are things that take our attention away from what we’re doing (or should be doing.) They come in many forms, both internal and external. Loud noises, movement near us, and environmental clutter do a lot to distract — and always have done. Then there’s the tendency towards multitasking, admin overload, and general procrastination.

It stands to reason that if you could isolate yourself from some of these distractions, you’d see a productivity boost. Enter the Isolator.

The Isolator

In 1925, Hugo Gernsback, a Luxembourgish-American inventor, editor and writer, invented a helmet. Its purpose? To help him avoid distractions.

This full-face helmet, made of solid wood, would sit over the wearer’s head. The Isolator suited its name. And brought with it a look that better suited a horror movie or a nightmare than an office.

Once on, the wearer would have drastically reduced hearing and vision. This made for fewer sensory distractions. Noise stopped being a distraction. You wouldn’t see people moving around you, or find your attention consumed by environmental clutter. (In fact, when wearing the Isolator, you’d look horrifying enough that people would likely steer clear of you, anyway.)

The eyepiece consisted of glass painted black, with only a thin part of it clear. So, you could only see the papers in front of you. Later, Gernsback added an oxygen tank/tube to the design, as users were likely to get drowsy in the (carbon dioxide-filled) contraption.

Images from the July, 1925 issue of “Science and Invention”



The Isolator seems like an extreme answer to the problem of distraction. One that would likely do more to distract than help in a modern office. (Can you imagine focusing with a horror movie creature sat at the desk next to you?)

Thankfully, with discipline, organisation, and modern tools, the Isolator isn’t needed. It’s entirely possible to focus without becoming a horror movie reject.

Enter automation

These days, many of our working day distractions come from multitasking and shallow work. Think things like email admin, manual data entry, and other little tasks that need doing. More distractions come from our phones and the social side of business — needless notifications that pull us out of our moments of focus.

But, instead of donning the Isolator, we can pass our distractions to automation software.

In other words, automation reduces the number of distractions available to tempt our attention away from our work. It can parse, sort and auto-reply to emails. It makes data entry more efficient, and only alerts us when we’re really needed.

Automation, not isolation

All in all, the Isolator was a creative, if disturbing, answer to the problem of distraction. But now we have tools and techniques to help us focus.

Automation software is one such tool reducing distractions and helping us boost productivity. From there, it’s a matter of prioritisation. (And leaving our phones alone.)

So, would you prefer automation over filling your office with horror-inducing helmets? If so, consider taking out a free trial of ThinkAutomation.

Useful links

Automation and the concept of mental energy

Productivity paradox: why more output isn’t always a good thing

ThinkAutomation free trial